When I was back in Scotland over the festivities, I had to book a hotel to stay in for the wedding of two young friends, Dave and Lisa-Jayne, who had fixed the location for this Presbyterian party at Dunkeld. This small, picturesque town also happens to be near to Pitlochry, home of Scotland’s smallest distillery, Edradour, the source of my tastings for this month's column.
A quick piece of Scottish myth and folklore before I begin my tale: also close to Dunkeld is the village of Birnham – famously known for the part played by Birnham Wood in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Perhaps with the impending nuptials it is not entirely appropriate to mention the famously unlucky "Scottish Play", where the ambition of a woman leads a previously upstanding man to his doom, but a cautionary tale never did anyone any harm. Dave would be well advised not to allow Lisa-Jayne to have a dagger and should avoid taking advice from groups of three women, particularly ones with broomsticks and pointy hats, at his stag do.
Anyway, being familiar with the area from summers in the late 1970s working on the estate of the Duke of Atholl, I thought that Edradour would be an appropriate choice to lead us into the Lunar New Year with the featured bottling being the 12-year-old Caledonia, a wee taste of the 10-year old eponymous Edradour alongside a doubtful dalliance with “batch four” of the distillery’s peated Ballechin.
Three is indeed a crowd, but with only three employees and three minimal sized copper stills, Edradour has flourished in recent years with the growing demand for single malt whisky. I obtained examples of three bottlings from The Whisky Shop in Glasgow upon my arrival in December and over the course of the Christmas and New Year, I sampled and shared them all.
In reverse order of preference, the Ballechin was not unpleasant but it did not inspire me. This is untypical of heavily peated Highland malt and perhaps it was its relative youth – first distilled in 2003 – but despite a switch to Sherry casks from the Burgundy previously used, the peat was altogether too dominant. Water, quite liberally applied, definitely improved the experience but despite quite a long sweet finish, it samples as a malt that requires either some tweaking of the distillation process or perhaps a few more years in the cask.
Next in preference was the 10-year-old Edradour, and for a young malt this was very pleasant. This is the most easy to obtain of the small distillery production, and with water from the Ben Vrackie springs, transformed with loving care into a fine shade of gold. This is much more what one would expect from a Highland distillery: light, with a hint of citrus to begin, the whisky sweetens in the middle and has a honeyed, slightly smoky finish. Taken neat was my preference although a smidgeon of water would not do it any harm.
However, as with many whisky experiences, a delight was not far away and The Caledonia 12-year-old expression was made for delightful sipping and very limited sharing. It would be understandable, when one hears that it was initially released from one cask selected by our third bard of the evening, Scottish singer and songwriter Dougie Maclean, to exclaim: “Is this a lager I see before me?” But only if you saw the famous Tennent’s adverts of the 1980s.
The song describes the longing for home of a Scot too long abroad, and if one was guaranteed a regular supply of such nectar as this single malt, one would perhaps be keener to swap Pacific Place for Pitlochry. Fruity, with a hint of Birnham oak, spicy and quite dry, this is a whisky for warm nights, Scottish songs and cuddling up to that sulky, sullen dame.
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